Wagang Army

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Wagang Army (Chinese: 瓦岗军, 611-618) was a key rebel armies in late Sui dynasty of China. The rebellion was primarily led by Zhai Rang before 617, and Li Mi after 617. To its greatest extent, Wagang Army occupied major territories of Henan and Shandong regions. It was one of the three strongest peasant forces of its time, the other two being Dou Jiande's army in Hebei and Du Fuwei's army in the south. Wagang Army played a significant part in overthrowing the Sui dynasty.


In August 604, Emperor Yang of Sui took the throne after murdering his father and elder brother. Being known as one of typical tyrants in Chinese history, Emperor Yang was a smart but conceited ruler. During his reign, he constructed the Grand Canal, rebuilt the Great Wall, launched three campaigns against Goguryeo, started warfares with Turks and Tuyuhun, and released so many harsh rules and heavy taxes. As a result, people of Sui dynasty, from peasants to nobles, could no longer endure this reign. Start in 611, massive uprisings and rebellions occurred all over the empire.

Map showing major uprisings and rebellions in the last years of Sui dynasty. The greatest extent of the land controlled by Wagang Army was shown as light green shade.

Wagang Uprising was one of those first uprisings occurred in 611. It was led by Zhai Rang, a former low-ranked official in Dongjun county, who had been sent to the jail due to some crime but then arbitrarily released by a prison guard named Huang Junhan. After being released, Zhai Rang went to Wagang, a small village and fort on a hill, and stayed with a group of outlaws and refugee. With great personal charm, Zhai Rang became the leader of those outlaws and refugee. In 611, when he learned that massive peasant uprisings broke out in Shandong, he decided to follow the tide. Wagang Army was therefore established.

Zhai was then followed and supported by many other smaller local rebellion forces such as those led by Wang Bodang, Bing Yuanzhen and Li Gongyi. Due to the great leadership shown by Zhai as well as the advantage of geographic location, many great warriors and strategists, such as Shan Xiongxin, Xu Shiji and Chai Xiaohe, also came to join the army. Therefore, Wagang Army became gradually strong, and became a threat of Luoyang, the second capital of Sui dynasty, as well as many granaries in Henan region.

In 616, a well-known intelligent noble man Li Mi, who had served as an adviser in Yang Xuangan's rebel army, joined Wagang Army after Yang Xuangan was defeated by Sui army. Li Mi quickly became the vice leader of Wagang after he led the army won the Battle of Xingyang and killed the famous Sui general Zhang Xutuo in the battle. Not only did this battle provided Wagang Army a fame of the most powerful rebel army at that time, but also it helped the army absorbed many other great warriors and generals, such as Qin Shubao and Luo Shixin. The army became extremely strong.

With the help of Li Mi, Wagang Army reached its peak. It occupied a huge territory of central China and controlled many important forts, cities and granaries. Li Mi then became the de facto leader of the army. However, in 617, an internal conflict between Li Mi and Zhai Rang broke out, and the conflict ended up with Zhai Rang being killed by Li Mi. After that, Li Mi became the only leader of the army.

The army soon started a series of wars against Wang Shichong, another rebellion warlord based in Luoyang. At the same time, Emperor Yang was murdered by Yuwen Huaji in Jiangdu. Yuwen Huaji led the palace guards and other former Sui forces marching towards Luoyang. Noticing Yuwen Huaji's approaching, Li Mi and Wang Shichong negotiated and suspended the fight. They stood together and launched a war against Yuwen Huaji.

Yuwen Huaji was defeated by Li Mi. At the same time, however, Li Mi's Wagang Army was seriously weakened. Then, Wang Shichong attacked Wagang Army again. Li Mi was completely defeated. He and Wang Bodang fled westward and surrendered to the newly established Tang dynasty. The remnants of Wagang Army dissolved quickly and its generals joined different powers including Tang dynasty, Wang Shichong, Du Fuwei and Dou Jiande.

In folk culture[edit]

Many stories of Sui and Tang heroes in folk cultures, such as 18 Warriors of Sui-Tang Period, were based on Wagang Army. Wagang leaders and generals, such as Qin Shubao, Wang Bodang, Xu Shiji, Shan Xiongxin, Cheng Yaojin and Pei Xingyan, are popular figures in folk tales and hero novels.